By HOWARD BERGER
TAMPA (Nov. 22) – If you couldn’t tell that James Reimer was nearing a return by watching him on the ice this morning, his appearance in front of reporters afterward pretty much sealed the deal. For the first time since Oct. 24 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia – two days after he suffered a neck injury and post-concussion syndrome in a game at Montreal – Reimer was given permission by the Leafs to gather with media. Consider that a tell-tale sign.
“It’s been so frustrating,” Reimer said moments after leaving the ice at the St. Pete Times Forum. He took part in the morning skate with teammates and then spent an extra 40 minutes working with the club’s goaltending coach, Francois Allaire (photos below).
“I’m really happy being able to get back on the ice and stop pucks… that’s what I love to do,” Reimer continued. “In the past week or so, my symptoms have been getting better – mainly a headache after working out. It was never terrible, but it did stick around for awhile and was annoying. I felt great the past five days and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Progressing at the snail-like pace required of an athlete with concussion symptoms is never easy, and certainly wasn’t for Reimer. “With something like this, you just have to err on the side of caution and concentrate on the future,” he shrugged. “If you think it’s frustrating [for media] and fans, it’s twice as frustrating for me. But, I’m just glad that everything seems like it’s gone right now and I can get back to stopping pucks.”
Asked if he has a time-line for returning to game action, Reimer replied: “Hopefully soon. As I said, the symptoms are getting better and almost gone. It’s just a matter now of getting back into shape and getting my timing back. When you have concussion-like symptoms, one thing you cannot do is get your heart-rate up and you’re just kind of sitting on your butt for a month. Conditioning really takes a hit.”
Should Reimer continue to increase his work-load and not suffer a set-back – which is always possible with his type of ailment – an educated guess for his first game, based on remarks today from coach Ron Wilson, is a week tomorrow – Wed. Nov. 30 – when the Leafs play the Bruins at the Air Canada Centre. If not, he should be ready for the return match, three nights later, at the TD Garden in Boston.
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Had a brief moment to speak, one-on-one, with Phil Kessel as he was departing the arena today. When Kessel was leading the NHL in goals and points during the first week of the schedule, it seemed like an aberration. That he continues to set the pace in both categories at the quarter-pole is drawing league-wide notice.
“I’m really the same player I was last season,” Kessel said when I asked what he felt was different about his game. “It’s just that things are clicking this year [alongside] the guys I’m playing with. From my standpoint, I don’t think I’ve changed anything at all.”
An observer would suggest, rather vehemently, that Kessel has never-before shown such a commitment to defensive hockey. One of the fastest skaters in the NHL, he is using his speed to break up opposition rushes [Kessel turned a 2-on-1 for Carolina the other night into an even-man attack by busting his tail to recover defensively] and is suddenly undaunted when absorbing a tough hit along the boards. Such a tactic – in the past – would often neutralize Kessel, but he’s been springing away from hits like that bunny in the Energizer battery commercials.
As for the optics of leading the NHL with 16 goals and 29 points, Kessel smiled and said, “Yeah, it looks alright but it doesn’t really matter to me, personally. We’re here to win games.”
NOTES: Defenseman Mike Komisarek underwent surgery on his broken arm yesterday [Monday] and will need roughly eight weeks to recover. That would see him return in mid-January… forward Matt Lombardi was also injured last Thursday in Nashville – sustaining a separated left-shoulder – and may require a surgical procedure as well, though not immediately. Wilson said today he should miss a maximum of four weeks… winger Clarke MacArthur, whose season has been fragmented by varied ailments and a suspension, returns tonight after his latest absence (three games) and will skate in front of his parents, who are here from the family home in Lloydminster, Alberta… Leafs will charter to Dallas immediately following tonight’s game and are scheduled for a day off tomorrow. On Thursday, the team will skate in the morning and then head to suburban Arlington for the Dallas Cowboys-Miami Dolphins Thanksgiving Day NFL encounter. Coincidentally, the club did the same four years ago, when it attended the Cowboys-New York Jets holiday match at old Texas Stadium. This year’s game in is the Cowboys’ new 90,000-seat behemoth, adjacent to the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the American Baseball League-champion Texas Rangers.
Now, please enjoy my photos from this morning here in Tampa:
FACADE OF THE ST. PETE TIMES FORUM (TO BE RE-NAMED TAMPA BAY TIMES FORUM IN JANUARY) IS COMPRISED OF HUNDREDS OF WINDOW-PANES (ABOVE AND BELOW) – ONE OF THE MORE STRIKING LOOKS IN THE NHL.
REPORTERS LOOK ON THIS MORNING (ABOVE) AS THE LEAFS AND COACH RON WILSON BEGIN THEIR DAY-OF-GAME SKATE IN THE ARENA (BELOW).
CAPTAIN DION PHANEUF HAS HIS “GAME-FACE” IN FULL BLOOM (ABOVE) WHILE STRETCHING BEFORE THE SKATE TODAY.
THE BEST SEASON IN LIGHTNING HISTORY IS DEPICTED VIA BANNERS HANGING FROM ONE END OF THE FORUM (ABOVE).
JAMES REIMER WATCHES THE START OF THIS MORNING’S TEAM SKATE (ABOVE AND BELOW) BEFORE TAKING PART WITH FELLOW NETMINDERS JONAS GUSTAVSSON AND BEN SCRIVENS. BARRING A LAST-MINUTE CHANGE IN PLANS, GUSTAVSSON WILL START TONIGHT’S GAME AGAINST THE LIGHTNING.
REIMER MEETS WITH GOALTENDING COACH FRANCOIS ALLAIRE (ABOVE) TOWARD THE END OF THE LEAFS FULL SKATE.
LEAFS STRETCH AT CENTER-ICE (ABOVE) AFTER THEIR MORNING WORK-OUT.
VISITING MEDIA HERE IN TAMPA IS SITUATED ABOVE SECTION 314 (FAR LEFT) IN THE TOM McEWEN PRESS BOX.
COACH RON WILSON SPEAKS OPTIMISTICALLY (ABOVE) ABOUT REIMER’S PROGRESS, SUGGESTING HIS RETURN IS FINALLY ON THE HORIZON.
REMAINING ON THE ICE AFTER THE REGULAR MORNING SKATE, REIMER WAS THE SUBJECT OF TSN CAMERAMAN TIM MOSES (ABOVE) AND THE VICTIM OF TEAMMATE COLTON ORR’S RUMP DURING A SCREENING DRILL (BELOW).
THE WRAP-AROUND VIDEO-BOARD HERE IN TAMPA (ABOVE) – AND A SIMILAR ONE AT THE H.P. PAVILION IN SAN JOSE – ARE THE TWO MOST VIVID IN THE NHL.
JAMES REIMER CATCHES HIS BREATH AFTER AN ELONGATED MORNING WORK-OUT (ABOVE) AND GATHERS WITH REPORTERS (BELOW) FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE OCT. 26.
WEST FLANK OF THE ST. PETE TIMES FORUM (ABOVE) SITE OF TONIGHT’S 7:30 PUCK-DROP BETWEEN THE MAPLE LEAFS AND TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING.